I have two new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog, one on errant punctuation and one on a sometimes tricky aspect of spelling and morphology.
The ‘emphatic’ use of quotation marks summarises accepted uses of quotation marks, including scare quotes, before considering a common but non-standard use:
Sometimes people use quotation marks to stress a word or phrase, and this clashes with the general understanding of how the marks – and scare quotes – are properly used. In a comment to my recent article on the use of apostrophes, Kristen said she found this habit troublesome, offering the example ‘fresh’ fish, which inadvertently casts doubt on the freshness of the fish – the very opposite impression to what’s intended.
If you saw a window sign for ‘homemade’ stew or a label promising ‘delicious’ waffles, would the punctuation affect how you imagine the food? What about a cosmetic product that’s ‘good’ for your hair, or a claim that a service is ‘free’?
Patterns of consonant doubling looks at whether and when to double consonants at the end of suffixed words. Fluent speakers, who tend to have a feel for the rules,
know that nod forms nodded and red redder (doubling the d), yet brood forms brooded and dead deader (no doubling). Turning flop into an adjective by adding the suffix –y gives us floppy, doubling the p, but soap becomes soapy, with no doubling.
Vowels play an important role. Notice the short vowel in nod and flop and the relatively long ones in brood and soap. Short vowels tend to mean we double the final consonant; long vowels tend to mean we don’t. The latter are often detectable by the word’s ending with e after a consonant: compare mop (mopped) and mope (moped), tap (tapped) and tape (taped), pin (pinned) and pine (pined), and similar pairs.
The article goes on to explain the role played by syllable stress (compare offered and referred), notes exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions, and concludes with the best possible rule for dealing with this messy area.
Your thoughts, as always, are welcome here or at Macmillan; older articles on words and language are available in the archive.